From Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr, many who are considered saints or heroes of history today were, at one time, thought to be troublemakers.
They are the men and women who stirred up trouble in their day because they were not content with the status quo. They are those who had vision and were able to see beyond the way things are and dream about the way things could be and should be. They risked everything and worked and spoke out for change.
Now there’s that word: change.
Change may be the only constant, but it is a terrifying idea for many. Many of us resist change, and are just fine with the way things are. Something in us knows change is a form of loss, and loss is painful. And change brings something else that few people like, the unknown.
When things stay the same, life is comfortable, predictable and familiar. And when that is threatened we become uncomfortable, uncertain and confused. We often find ourselves reacting against change, and we think of those leading change as troublemakers.
So what can we do when change is needed? We can all admit our world is changing rapidly. And this is not the typical change that happens from generation to generation. This is seismic shift in the way our culture thinks about … well, everything. From technology, to religion, to family dynamics, to education—change is everywhere. Some of this is good and some of this not so good. But we cannot stop it.
In the midst of this change is the Church. And the question for us is will we change or will we white knuckle the past and do all we can to stay the same way? Remember, those who refused to change and were only interested in maintaining the status quo are not the one remembered as saints.
Which means we need to consider not only how the Church will change, but how we can lead that change. Some refuse to think about change and dig their heels in. But this is not a good way to move forward. Others run into change with wild abandon and little forethought. This is also not a good way to move forward.
So what does it look like to be a troublemaker that moves beyond the immaturity of rebellion, embraces humility and leads to needed, lasting change?
There are a few hallmarks of saints who were once troublemakers that are worth paying attention to. If we can do these things, we just might find ourselves in some good trouble.
A Willingness to Sacrifice Everything
You can always find out how serious someone is about change by what he or she is willing to give to see change come about. There are many voices crying out for change that quickly fade in our world today. Many are those who simply want to be seen and heard, but deep inside don’t really care about seeing things change.
The same cannot be said for voices that endure. Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest in Burma for 15 years. Still, her unflagging efforts for human rights, hope for democracy in Burma and peaceful resistance against an oppressive regime could not be stopped. She is still willing to speak out for what is right and needed change, and is willing to give up everything, to see it happen.
Talking About What We Are For
One can make a great living today talking about what he or she is against. From blogs, to articles, to presidential elections, to sermons on Sundays, we are bombarded with critics and cynicism. It’s easy to do, and we eat it up. Because when we state what we are against, we have the luxury of not listening or thinking about what we are for. But in the end, it stifles creativity. After a while, we turn down the volume on people like this.
Troublemakers are different—they talk about what they are for. It means having the audacity to dream about what could be and painting a compelling picture of a preferred future. This does not mean disrespecting where we are or where we have been. Rather we can honor the past and present as we look ahead and we speak of what can be and will be with great hope.
Bigger Than A Person
When Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, he spoke about something bigger than himself. His vision was about a country where “sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” Dr. King did not preach only to make his life better. His dream was to see restoration come to our country and world.
This is what good troublemakers do. Their vision, dreams and hopes are not centered on themselves. Rather, their greatest desires are focused on change that will be good for everyone. Rarely do you hear them promoting themselves, but only talking about a cause, a vision, or, in the case of Dr. King, a dream.
Invite Others to Embody the Vision
Troublemakers always want others to cause trouble with them. They are not interested in it being about their idea or their vision. They care little about who gets the credit because their greatest passion is the change for the common good. This is why they are always found inviting others to join them.
A good troublemaker is one who equips, empowers and mobilizes others. They do this because they are fully aware there is no way needed change will come to bear on the strength of one person. They know that when others understand and live out the vision, it will only grow and become greater—and the change that is needed becomes inevitable.
There is a good chance those who dream and envision needed change in our world may be branded us as troublemakers, and that’s fine. But if we can hold to these principles in leading change maybe, one day, long after we are gone, we will be thought of as saints.